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To infinity… and beyond: NASA set to explore distant Kuiper belt object

MOSCOW, Aug. 31 — After its historical mission to Pluto, NASA is ready to continue further exploration of outer space — The New Horizons probe will be headed million miles away from the dwarf planet to one of the objects of the Kuiper Belt that orbits the solar system and has never been studied by humans.

A space object known as 2014 MU69 of the Kuiper Belt has been defined as one of the two possible targets for the New Horizons flyby in 2016, various media reported.

The Mission is expected to be approved by the summer 2016, according to a NASA statement.

NASA always aims to prolong the work of their probes after the goals of the initial missions are achieved, as it’s considered to be cheaper than launching a brand-new mission.

NASA scholars had a hard time looking for the appropriate Kuiper Belt object for the New Horizons’ mission extending in 2011. They only could complete the task of choosing five possible objects for the probe’s flyby in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

A body nicknamed “Potential Target 1” was picked from the list of probable candidates because New Horizons has enough fuel to reach it and to protect the mission “against the unforeseen,” NASA investigator Alan Stern noted.

“2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by,” Stern claimed.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences advised to include the Kuiper Belt objects in the mission while addressing its decadal survey in 2003. New Horizons was specifically designed for the optional mission extension after Pluto’s flyby. It has extra propellant and its communication system is able to work from much greater distances than it operates now.

John Grunsfeld, chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, said that despite the fact New Horizons is still streaming valuable data about Pluto back to Earth, the agency is working on the target search “for this intrepid explorer.”

So far, the probe is 3 billion miles away from our planet and continues to move away. Scientists reported New Horizons wasn’t damaged.

The Kuiper belt is a vast region of the solar system stretching beyond planets to about 50 astronomic units from the Sun. It consists of a large number of bodies formed. (PNA/Sputnik)


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